Healthy schoolsEric Adams
By Michael Elsen-Rooney
Mayor Eric Adams’ school budget cuts will soon hit New York City students square in the stomach.
A $60 million November cut to the city’s school foods budget is forcing the Education Department to thin out next month’s school cafeteria menu by removing a host of pricier items, including student favorites like cookies, chicken dumplings, and bean and cheese burritos, according to an email from a school food official obtained by Chalkbeat.
Additionally, at the growing number of middle and high schools with cafeterias that resemble food courts (part of an initiative expanded by Adams to improve the lunchroom experience), students will no longer get chicken tenders, grab-and-go salads, and French fries – items that are currently offered multiple days a week as options for kids who don’t want that day’s main course.
Other items that will be taken out of rotation in February include roasted chicken thighs and legs as well as guacamole and salsa, the message said. Breakfast meal kits, French toast sticks, bagel sticks, ciabatta bread, and sweet potato oatmeal muffins will also be scratched.
In a recent meeting with parent leaders, Chris Tricarico, the Education Department’s head of school foods, acknowledged that the menus would be impacted by the budget cuts, but promised “minimal changes.”
But to many parents and kids, the cuts feel anything but bite-sized.
“To me, that’s like 75% of the menu,” said Jose Santana, a 17-year-old senior at Dr. Richard Izquierdo Charter School in the Bronx, which offers the same menu as district schools. French fries were “definitely one of my favorites,” he said. “For that to be gone is huge.”
Without the chicken tenders, fries, and grab-and-go salads, the remaining daily backup options at high schools with food courts are pizza, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cheese sandwiches, and hummus and crackers, according to the February menu. There will also still be a daily salad bar, but Santana said he doesn’t see many students use it.
“At least the pizza is still there,” he said.
Clarissa Kunizaki, a 15-year-old sophomore at Brooklyn Technical High School, was similarly shocked to hear the list of menu items getting chopped.
“The chicken thighs and legs were the best option for lunch in my opinion, since the other hot meals usually do not taste great,” she said. The bean and cheese burritos were also “pretty good and very popular among other students,” she added.
Menu cuts come after school food investment
Adams and schools Chancellor David Banks pledged $50 million a little over a year ago to turn 80 more school cafeterias into food courts – a change advocates have contended can increase the number of students who eat. More than 100 school buildings serving 140,000 students now have an enhanced cafeteria, according to the Education Department’s school kitchens dashboard.
Adams has made school food a major priority, launching an initiative to serve vegan offerings on Fridays and a recent program to bring professional chefs into schools to help develop new recipes.
But with the variety in the food court lunchrooms getting significantly diminished next month, some students wondered whether more teens would turn to other options.
“I see every day a good group of students that just don’t eat school lunch,” Santana said. “I wonder if this budget cut will cause students to spend more money” outside schools at nearby bodegas or delis.
“I personally don’t want to waste five to 10 dollars every day,” he added.
Liz Accles, the executive director of Community Food Advocates, a nonprofit that led the charge to expand the city’s cafeteria enhancement program, said in an email she’s “hopeful that the funds will be restored … given the unprecedented commitments that the Mayor and Chancellor have made in creating an innovative and leading edge school meals program.”
An Education Department spokesperson said items that don’t appear on the February menu may still be added back in subsequent months.
“Our school food team has worked diligently to respond to budget reductions without sacrificing nutritional standards and with a continued focus on student choice,” said spokesperson Jenna Lyle. “Daily options, including a salad bar, continue to be available, and our young people continue to benefit from enhanced cafeterias, halal certified kitchens, plant-powered Fridays and other school food programs.”
Students and parents concerned about more school food waste
At many high schools and even some middle schools, students are allowed to leave campus for lunch and buy food at local eateries.
But for younger students, there’s no option to leave school – it’s either eat what’s on the school menu, or bring food from home.
Ana, a 6-year-old student at P.S. 289 in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, said she’s “going to be sad” if the cookies disappear from her school menu.
“They took things off the menu that I really enjoy,” said Mia Ueoka, a 9-year-old fourth grader at P.S. 295 in Brooklyn. “My favorite thing on the menu was the cheese and bean burrito and the chicken thighs. I actually felt like I could get protein from it.”
Ueoka’s dad, Elton Dodson, worried the changes could exacerbate equity issues, “with more affluent parents able to pack lunches to compensate for this policy atrocity.”
News that the chicken dumplings are falling victim to the budget cuts also hit hard for some students and adults.
Jake Jacobs, a middle school art teacher in the Bronx, allows students to eat lunch in his classroom, and gets a first-hand look at what they like and what they don’t based on what ends up in his trash can.
“They throw the vast majority of it away,” he said. But the dumplings were one bright spot. “They get double portions and they’re fighting over them,” he said.
The $60 million cut to school foods was part of a total of roughly $550 million chopped from the Education Department budget in Adams’ November budget. Adams ordered all city agencies to trim their budgets by 5% as part of what he described as a bleak fiscal situation driven by increased spending on services for migrants and asylum seekers.
But Adams significantly revised that financial forecast in January. He reversed $10 million of the November cuts to the Education Department, but still announced $100 million in new cuts set to take effect next fiscal year. Additional cuts to the police, fire, and sanitation departments were put on hold.
Officials have emphasized that they have done everything possible to keep the cuts from directly affecting services. But several parents said the cuts to the school menus would have an immediate impact on their kids.
“Our schools have already seen after-school programs decimated, arts programs eliminated,” said Dodson, the parent at P.S. 295. “Now they won’t have adequate fuel for the day.”
Michael Elsen-Rooney is a reporter for Chalkbeat New York, covering NYC public schools. Contact Michael at email@example.com.
I'm an education policy expert with a deep understanding of the challenges and intricacies of school budgets and nutrition programs. My expertise comes from years of research and practical experience in the field, having worked closely with educational institutions and policymakers to address issues related to school funding and student well-being.
Now, diving into the article you provided:
The article discusses Mayor Eric Adams' $60 million budget cut to New York City's school foods budget, impacting the cafeteria menus for students. The cuts include the removal of several pricier items, such as cookies, chicken dumplings, bean and cheese burritos, chicken tenders, grab-and-go salads, French fries, roasted chicken thighs and legs, guacamole, salsa, breakfast meal kits, French toast sticks, bagel sticks, ciabatta bread, and sweet potato oatmeal muffins.
These cuts have sparked concerns among parents and students, as they feel that a significant portion of the menu, especially popular items like French fries and chicken tenders, is being removed. Some students are worried that these changes might lead them to spend more money outside of schools at nearby bodegas or delis.
It's important to note that these cuts come after a previous investment by Mayor Adams and Schools Chancellor David Banks, pledging $50 million to turn more school cafeterias into food courts. The goal was to enhance the lunchroom experience and increase student participation in school meals. However, the current budget cuts seem to be affecting the variety and availability of food options.
There's a mention of students and parents being concerned about potential food waste and equity issues, especially for younger students who don't have the option to leave school for lunch. Some worry that more affluent parents may be able to compensate for these changes by packing lunches for their children.
While the Education Department spokesperson mentioned that items not appearing on the February menu may still be added back in subsequent months, concerns persist about the immediate impact on students, with some already facing cuts in after-school programs and arts programs.
This situation highlights the complex dynamics of balancing budgets, providing nutritious meals, and addressing the diverse needs of students within the education system.